Gender and education play a large role in healthy convenience meal choices, study

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food Nutrition

Study finds flavour still trumps health in ready meal choices
Study finds flavour still trumps health in ready meal choices
Socio-demographic factors such as gender and education play a large role in consumer choice when it comes to buying health-orientated ready meals, but sensory appeal is still the dominant purchasing driver, finds a new study from Norway.

The researchers, based at the Nofima institute, found females and higher educated consumers are more likely to buy ready-to-heat (RTH) meals containing ingredients such as salmon and vegetables than other population categories.

However, the authors, writing in the journal Food Quality and Preference​, found odour, texture, flavour, and appearance - either before or after heating depending on the meal - is still the biggest factor in relation to shoppers opting for healthy convenience meals, regardless of age, education or gender or preference for healthier foods.

Previous studies have shown various reactions to off-flavour in healthy food.

Our results indicate that consumers are not willing to reduce their demand for tasty food when consuming healthy convenience food. Flavour seems to be the strongest driver of overall liking for the meals, stronger than the effect from liking of odour, appearance and texture,” ​said the Nofima team.

“The fact that consumers eat more convenience food than ever, and that previous studies show a high correlation between convenience food consumption and overweight, makes it important for policy makers to understand these drivers,”​ added the authors.


The Norwegian team tested two new RTH meals with 112 consumers.

The RTH foods were developed at Nofima in autumn 2008 and spring 2009 as a part of the EU funded research project Double Fresh, which aimed at developing fresher, healthier and more appealing convenience food, they reported.

The meals, consisted of either raw salmon or chicken fillet placed in a transparent one compartment tray together with fresh vegetables, pasta or rice and a sauce. According to an evaluation of the nutritional quality conducted at the University of Vienna, both meals meet the recommendations for nutrients and energy intake, added the authors.

Data were gathered in the spring 2009 by a web-questionnaire in Norway. The stratification criteria were: (1) each respondent consumes RTH meals at least twice a month, (2) there are roughly the same percentage of respondents in age category 20–45 and 46–70 years, and (3) roughly the same percentage of male and female.

The final sample consisted of 112 Norwegian consumers.

The authors determined that for the salmon meal, appreciation of both appearance and odour after heating were significantly linked to consumer’s liking of the food product, while overall liking of the chicken meal was significantly linked to liking of appearance before heating.

“While factors as gender, education, age, and health orientation seem to have an effect for the likelihood of buying the salmon meal, these results were not observed for the chicken meal. The sensory specific drivers of overall liking seem also to vary for the two meals investigated,”​ said the authors.


The observation from previous studies, that elderly people are more health conscious than younger people is only partly supported by this study, said the authors.

“We cannot observe any direct link between age and likelihood of buying. For the salmon meal education and age interacts, and likelihood of buying increases only with age for the less educated. The last observation is a bit surprising, since previous studies have indicated that health orientation increases with education level.

One likely explanation may be that higher educated consumers are more health oriented, but less convenience oriented, and thereby prefer to buy other kinds of less convenient healthy food,” ​concluded the researchers.

Additional research using the model developed by this project needs to be tested on larger consumer samples, in different markets, and for different categories of healthy convenience food, argue the scientists involved.

“Future studies may also look for other explanatory socio-demographic variables to include. Instead of only investigating population effects, it may also be interesting to look for individual consumer effects and to explore different consumer segments,”​ they added.

This research, said the authors, was partly funded by the EU project Double Fresh, by the National Research Council of Norway (NFR)) and by the Agricultural Food Research Foundation of Norway, with companies Fjordland and Nortura contributing to the development of the meals, said the authors.

Source: Food Quality and Preference
Published online ahead of print: DOI: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2011.11.001
Title: Likelihood of buying healthy convenience food: An at-home testing procedure for ready-to-heat meals
Authors N. Veflen Olsen, E Menichelli, O. Sørheim, T. Næs

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